For practical purposes, it couldn’t have worked out better: the Bears’ only Chicagoland native will make his first career start a three-hour drive away, in a city where he spends a month each offseason training.
“My home away from home,” receiver Cam Meredith said.
On Sunday in Indianapolis, though, it’s up to the Westchester St. Joseph alum to transform himself into more than a footnote to the most depressing story in a drab Bears season. The Illinois State alum became the likely starter when Kevin White was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a spiral fibula fracture and left high ankle sprain.
“Cam’s gonna be alright,” receiver Alshon Jeffery said. “Cam has a lot of talent. Sky’s the limit for him; we just gotta see it.
“We see it everyday in practice, so we know.”
Meredith has only two fewer career catches than White. He’s 88 days younger, stands the same height and weighs only 10 pounds less. Their resumes diverge from that point, though: White was supposed to be a star, while Meredith is a former quarterback still learning the position.
White was picked seventh overall in 2014; the Bears noticed Meredith at their local tryout camp and signed him once he went undrafted that same year.
“Sometimes the only way to grow as a young player is to get thrown into the fire and just play through it,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “When you deal with young guys, there’s going to be some bumps in the road. We understand that. We know that. We’re excited about getting him out there and playing him some.”
Meredith was part of the Bears’ game plan the last two weeks, catching two balls for 24 yards in Dallas — losing a fumble, too — and four for 28 against the Lions.
Like White, who notoriously only played on one side of the field in college, Meredith was “extremely raw” when he joined the Bears, Loggains said. But Meredith’s quarterback experience — he switched to receiver after his redshirt sophomore season — helped him read pro defenses, even if he was now looking at them from the flank rather than under center.
“His hands are impressive for being a guy who hasn’t really played receiver that long,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said, “He’s going to get his opportunity to step up, and I think he’s made strides to be ready for that opportunity.“
He received vigorous coaching from receiver coaches Mike Groh and, starting this season, Curtis Johnson, as well as Jeffery and veteran Eddie Royal.
“Just the little things of being a receiver, the nuances,” Meredith said. “How to come out of routes, certain windows to sit in, stuff like that.
“I think the majority of it is just getting comfortable at the position.”
If he can stay that way — and thrive — White’s injury won’t be all for naught.
“To see how far I’ve come,” Meredith said, “I’m definitely excited to keep it going.”